Once a violin prodigy, Israeli Zvi Gotheiner discovered dance and began seeing the world as a dancer and choreographer. Along with solid professional connections to both the U.S.A. and Israel came increasing awareness that he was not fully at home anywhere. His latest work, Checkpoint (at the Joyce through Friday), explores this “sense of being alienated when you’re in between things.”
While there are no specific references or characters in Checkpoint—which features a wide-ranging score by Gotheiner’s frequent collaborator, Scott Killian, and incorporates a familiar, slightly naughty children’s nursery rhyme as a recurring motif—it encompasses sections evoking betrayal, wariness, and regimentation. “You see a community that’s been stripped of human rights. They’re being observed, checked, and manipulated,” the choreographer says of his cast of 10. “There’s an inner story that I hope will resonate in a human way.”
His turning point came when he saw a Batsheva performance as a teenager, and found himself drawn into the dance world. While folk dancing was integral to Israeli culture, “being a modern dancer is a totally different game, and not very acceptable,” he acknowledges with a laugh. He started a modern troupe on his kibbutz before an American-Israeli Cultural Foundation scholarship brought him to New York. After directing companies in both places, he launched Zvi Gotheiner & Dancers in 1989.
“I’m not an American, in that I can’t fully participate in the culture,” he observes. “It’s being on the outside looking in, with fascination, some attraction, but also disgust. And I can’t say I feel at home in Israel, because in the 12 years that I’m not there, the culture and even the landscape have changed. Sometimes it’s difficult to recognize what it used to be.” At the Joyce, he’s exploring the Yemenite influence on today’s Israel in Dust, a 1998 work for which Lea Avraham performs Yemenite songs, and he’s showing last year’s Duets to Brazilian-Indian Music.